Monday, March 28, 2011

It snowed last night...

So, apparently there's radioactive iodine in the rain in Boston. That's just down the way from here. It hasn't rained in a while here, but it has snowed. I guess we have radioactive iodine in the snow. It's a very small world, isn't it?

They say it's safe, and I won't argue the point. Nothing I can do about it anyway. I feel like the tragedy of Japan is the tragedy of all of us, we're all in it now. Well, I still have my home, a lot of Japanese don't, so I don't mean to belittle their losses. My family are all still alive and accounted for. But I have, we all have, radioactive snow/rain.

For humanity to survive the next century or so, we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions. We are not doing that. Nuclear energy might have been a stopgap measure, we might have switched to nuclear energy to tide us over until we got our insane energy needs under control. But that's not looking too good right now. I mean, even if we learn something from this event, and figure out how to build nuclear reactors that won't be vulnerable to tsunamis or major earthquakes or human error or terrorists or whatever, and we figure out what to do with the radioactive waste, and we figure out how to pay for it all, well, the appetite for nuclear energy has kind of taken a bit of a hit. So we're in a bind, Plan B isn't really there for us.

You can forget about wind and solar. No one has figured out how that can possibly replace fossil fuels for quantity and steady reliability. It just can't. And we're not all going to just sign on for non-stop Earth Hour. Feels good to do your bit for the survival of the Earth for one lousy hour, but all day every day? I don't think so. So, no Plan B, no Plan C.

I don't fear for the world, it will carry on. Nature has dealt with far worse than us, and will again. Even if it means starting over from scratch. I take heart from Snowball Earth, the time way back when that this planet was just one gigantic ball of ice with no sign of life on it at all. And yet there was, and the Earth carried on. But I don't have a lot of hope for us, I don't think we are going to make it now.

I've been putting off posting anything here, every time I go to my blog I see my granddaughter's laughing face at the top of the page and I don't want to disturb that. Well, all good things come to an end sometime, I'll just have to scroll down a bit now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Some photos

Here's some old photos from the last month or so, the male cardinal, a crow, and a before/after of my back yard.

This is the cardinal:

Uh-oh, he sees me:

The crow. I couldn't raise the blinds to get a better photo, he'd have flown away:

My backyard under snow:

My backyard after the snow has melted. See the swings? Go back to the previous photo and look for them:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Disaster, tulips and baby Eva

Rain came and went, so did the water in the basement. All the reading and asking around I've done seems to indicate that there are several expensive ways to keep water out of the basement, but none that are 100% guaranteed.

My neighbour the mason, carpenter, chimney sweep and handyman says, Best strategy is to provide an exit route. My basement has a water exit route. The dehumidifier and towels help.

In spite of sworn attestations otherwise, I am quite sure this has been on ongoing issue dating back well before my purchase and so far there is no sign of damage. And we have had some good drying weather since the weekend so I am officially not worrying about it. I have done what's possible and so far so good.

I have been following developments in Libya, Bahrain and Japan; what 'interesting times' we live in! In a bad way.

I am so thoroughly impressed by the Japanese, they suffer the most awful devastation and soldier on nevertheless. If ever there was a model for how to deal with Worst Case Scenario, they have it. But the toll, OMG the toll.

As for Ghaddafi, I cannot find words to respond to such terrible madness. I've listened to arguments about why a No Fly Zone is unworkable and I accept that they are probably right, but I sure wish it were not so. I wish for once the CIA would successfully target someone for assassination, but what a terrible thing to wish for. I take it back.

I hear Aristide is working on returning to Haiti. If Duvalier can, why not Aristide. I wish him well.

My tulips are emerging. Not really mine, I didn't plant them, but they're there. This is my first spring here and it will be an ongoing surprise to see what has been planted here, what emerges from the ground as spring progresses.

And finally, thanks to a series of Westjet seat sales (BTW, seatsale on now until end of Mar. 17), I am expecting visitors from the west coast in April, May and June. I am thoroughly looking forward to that. My guest room is almost completed, I just need pictures on the wall and a baby gate on the basement stairs.

My 7-month old granddaughter Eva is coming! Yes that's her at the top of this post. She eats solid food, she sits up and she is working hard on crawling. She has an infectious and hearty laugh (thanks Facebook), what more could I ask for.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Water spring time

Last weekend we had double-digit temperatures (i.e., above +10C/+50F) and some rain for a couple of days, which hugely reduced the snow cover here. You could actually watch the level of the snow fall. It was an amazing transformation, almost overnight we went from the dead of winter to what looks like maybe spring.

The driveway is now almost completely clear of snow, the front lawn is all clear and the back yard half clear.

In the morning I go out and sniff the air, I can smell spring.

I've been out walking the perimeter, planning where my garden is going to be.

But the bad news is now I have water in my basement.

Around here water is an issue for everyone, no matter whether you are on the Mountain or in the Valley, it just is. And here on the Ridge the hillside is full of underground springs. Last fall it rained so much the water table rose to its highest level, and then all winter we had major snowfalls. So the spring is looking good for flooding. It doesn't matter whether you are by the banks of an overflowing river or up on a hillside, the water will find you.

When I used to live here in the '80s that would not have been a big deal, the basement was unfinished and there was a drain hole in the middle of the floor. As long as I kept my stuff out of the way of the water flow, the water came in and the water went out and nobody got hurt.

But now...

The fellow who owned this place in between did major renovations, including a completely finished basement. He patched a major crack in the east wall of the basement and I guess that cleared up most of the water problem. I remember when I owned this place before that the east wall was the major source of the leakage. I tried fixing that with better gutters, but that only reduced the flow. I knew when I bought the house back that water in the basement was going to be the biggest potential issue, even though the previous owner swore the problem was licked.

All of the original concrete basement is hidden by gyproc walls and laminate flooring, except for a small area around the furnace. Behind the furnace is where I first saw water seeping out from under the finished floor, and it appeared to be coming from the south wall. I put down towels and cranked up the dehumidifier.

For a couple of days I was running towels between the drier and the furnace room every hour or so, but the flow seems to have subsided now. Good news, except that the weatherman has issued a Rain Warning for this weekend, so I expect I will be dealing with yet more water.

I don't know what kind of damage is being done under the finished floor. I've asked around what other folks think about it, and the consensus seems to be that I am doing all the right things and it is a just a matter of wait and see now.

I could spend a lot of money trying to waterproof the basement, but do I want to?

When I bought this house back I figured that the finished basement was a bonus, but I could go back to the way it was before if I had to. So I will probably wait and see until there are signs of rot and then tear all that stuff out and be done with it. Repairing it just means having to worry every time it rains.

In the meantime the dehumidifier hums along. Maybe I should go to Frenchy's for more towels.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women are heroes

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

I read recently about an interesting street artist who has just released a new film called Women Are Heroes. JR does huge photographic murals in public places, the film is about a recent series of photo murals he did of women from poor and war-torn parts of the world.

JR's premise in this film is that in peacetime women are discriminated against, in wartime they are targets. He does not call them victims, he calls them heroes. Because no matter what, they continue to raise the young, keep communities together and point fiercely to the evil of atrocity.

I watched the trailer* for this film and it is moving. In one scene a Congolese woman describes being raped and watching her daughter be raped and her young son murdered. In another, a woman walks up to and screams at soldiers in the street, You are killing the people!

* - This trailer has been flagged on Youtube for containing adult material, I found another site for it but now you are warned: it contains adult material.

I like that JR calls these women heroes, and celebrates their heroism. In the biggest way he can. He plasters gigantic photos of their eyes everywhere, on walls, rooftops, the sides of trucks and buses, and at the bottom of swimming pools. Heroism can be life-threatening acts of courage in moments of great danger, it can also be just keeping on keeping on in the face of unrelenting adversity.

Today is International Women's Day. Celebrate the heroism of women, and keep on keeping on.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The F-word

Tomorrow, March 8, is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

CBC TV's Doc Zone recently showed the documentary The F-word: Who Wants to be a Feminist?, about the current state of feminism and the status of women in Canada. Apparently both are going nowhere fast, except maybe south (metaphorically).

The title of the film is a reflection of the fact that many women do not like to identify as feminists because the word has taken on a negative connotation. The epithet implies women who still loudly fight against a now-vanquished enemy, making fools of themselves raging against long gone inequities. Women who do not like to call themselves feminists still believe in equality and rights for women, but they believe that these are already a done deal and that we should all just move on in life.

One of the things I learned is that the status of women in Canada used to be among the best in the world, we occupied seventh place in an international ranking in 2005 (the USA ranked 17th), and before that we were in fifth place. But in the past few years the situation has deteriorated so that now we rank lower (horrors!) than the USA, somewhere around twentieth place in 2010. Latvia and Sri Lanka rank higher. I applaud Latvia and Sri Lanka, but still, you'd think a long established western industrialized democracy could do better.

The film discusses possible causes of that deterioration. One major and obvious cause is our current Harper government, which has systematically undermined legal protections and financial support for women and women's advocacy organizations.

The Harper government professes strong support for "family values", meaning the withdrawal of supports for working women and reduced access to childcare among other things. Newly arrived immigrant women isolated by language and old country attitudes are left to fend for themselves, the poverty of women and children is ignored, legal protections for women in the workplace are quietly withdrawn.

Certainly the general movement toward right wing politics in North America has been detrimental to gender equality, but the film also offers another potential cause for the lack of feminist action on this issue.

In the film the history of feminism is sketched in broad terms as a movement in three waves: the suffragettes of the early twentieth century, the feminist movement of the '60s and '70s, and a more recent wave of feminist action in the late '90s and early twenty-first century. Each wave seems separated by a period of self-satisfaction, wherein many women assume that the major battles have been fought and won, we can rest on our laurels and get on with reaping the rewards. This film suggests that it is as if feminism has to skip a generation or two before it can reawaken. Feminists do a lousy job of raising the next generation of feminists.

I am not sure if I entirely agree with that last sentence, I don't think feminists are particularly at fault there. I think it is true that such movements do tend to skip generations but I don't think this is a problem specific to feminists. Maintaining a steady state of outrage over many decades for steadily (albeit microscopic) decreasing levels of injustice is just hard to do. For any cause. And it is easy to quietly eat away at recently won justice when public attention has moved on to another issue.

If you live in Canada you can watch the film online by going to the CBC Doc Zone website. There are a lot of other interesting documentaries there as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cat chaser

There's a cat up the street who tours my back deck every day, perching briefly on the deck railing. If I don't actually see the cat, I do see its tracks in the snow, and the little cleared space on the deck railing where it sits. Sometimes I see it staring in the window at me, but it takes off if I open the door.

Actually it may be two cats, I saw the pair sitting in their own yard up the street the other day, and I can't tell them apart. Two long-haired grey cats.

One time I came out the back door and the cat took off from my back deck onto the driveway, looking over its shoulder to see if I was following. As it happened I was going to drive somewhere, so when I got into my truck and started out the driveway after the cat, it got really scared. It streaked down the driveway and then turned left up the street.

That was the direction I was headed in too. It just flew up the street. Snowbanks were so high the cat couldn't get off the road until it got to its driveway, so I think it was pretty freaked.

The cat gives me a pretty wide berth now: Lady Who Chases Cats With a Truck.

Probably just as well, a lot of birds visit my birdfeeders and that cat is overly interested in them.

Today we are in the middle of a major spring tease, the temperature is warmer now than it has been since I arrived here last November: +13C. It's even supposed to stay above zero at night for a couple of days. Lots of melting going on.

Yesterday four of us went cross-country skiing in the Harbour before the melting really took hold, it was beautiful.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Following the wild credit card

I just spent two whole days in New Minas, the big box store capital of the Valley. I have guests coming and a guest room with no furniture, and what with the bedbug epidemic I am afraid of buying second hand. But I cannot afford new. So I held my nose and spent two whole days going from big box store to big box store looking for bedding and furniture.

The first day I think I spent just under $1,000. I am not sure because I haven't looked at the receipts yet, I am afraid to. The second day I spent a few hundred more. Again, not sure, haven't looked at the receipts yet. At a certain point, I just gave up trying to stem the flow. It seems like once you let a credit card loose, it takes on a life of its own. All I could do was follow it around and carry the bags.

I found this carpet at Canadian Tire, a big 5' by 8' indoor-outdoor carpet, nothing special but it was on sale for $19.99. The guest room is 8' by 10', so the carpet covers half the room. The sales guy mentioned that they had two of them, he just couldn't find the other one. When I got home I thought, Gee, if I bought the other one too, then the whole floor would be carpeted. Which would be good because it's a basement room with a linoleum floor.

So I called the store back. Talked to Josh in Hardware. He said he'd see if he could find it and he'd call me back. Or, if I didn't hear from him I should call him after a couple of hours or so. I didn't hear from him so I called. He told me he'd looked but he couldn't find it. He even got another guy to go out to the warehouse with him and they took inventory of all the carpets, but no luck. According to the computer they have that carpet, he said he'd keep looking and I should call him back on Monday. So we'll see. Half I want that carpet, half I want to stop spending money, so either way it'll be good. Or bad.

I've been working through some new bread recipes. Got a couple of books on artisanal bread baking and have been trying them out. One recipe calls for baking the bread in a Dutch oven pot. They cost an arm and a leg these days, I remember I used to have one that cost me next to nothing but now, well, you pay a lot for a Dutch oven. However, I was talking about that in the local used book store and someone said she had one in the barn that I could have. She cleaned it up and oiled it and gave it to me. For nothing! Just to know that it would be put to good use.

So this recipe seems foolproof. No matter how many mistakes I make, the bread still turns out great. I've stopped putting jam on my toast, it tastes too good for that. However. The second rising is supposed to happen with the dough wrapped in a towel. Then you are supposed to preheat the Dutch oven pot in the stove oven and then tip the dough from the towel into the pot. Every time I do that it plops into the pot hard enough to deflate it. Sometimes off centre, halfway up one side of the pot. My aim is terrible. The Dutch oven is so hot I am afraid I might burn myself so I hold the towel away from it, well, it's scary and messy.

Last night I had this brainstorm. I was thinking about the tipping problem and was wondering if there was some way to lower the dough into the oven nicely. I had this idea that if I had one of those silicon baking sheets I could cut out a circle to fit in the bottom of the oven, and then leave two strips on opposite sides to act as handles for lowering the dough into the oven. I could let the dough rise on the pad and then just lower it into the oven. Canadian Tire had this great sale on a set of silicon baking forms, including the baking sheet, so I bought that as well as the carpet (and a bunch of other stuff, it was a pretty good sale. I now have a year's supply of toilet paper). But the forms all look so useful as is, I hate to cut one of them up for my little experiment. Oh well, courage, gotta do it.

If Josh finds the carpet I have to go back for it. And there's a blanket I saw at Winners, and I still have to figure out what to do for curtains...

Where is it all going to end?